England

Warrington council wrongly destroyed planning records

Warrington council has been criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman for wrongly destroying planning applications.

The ombudsman said the destruction of approved applications and plans prior to 1996 was "an extraordinary and inexcusable act of maladministration".

Planning authorities have had a statutory duty to hold them on record, for people to view, since 1947.

Warrington council said it did not dispute the ombudsman's findings.

A spokeswoman added: "We are in the process of deciding what action should be taken in order to improve matters and cannot comment further at this time."

'Grave concern'

The issue came to light when two householders complained that the council had failed to deal with planning applications properly, over the development of a house on land behind their homes.

The ombudsman, Anne Seex, started an investigation and discovered a senior planning officer had arranged to destroy records from before 1996.

That officer has now left the council.

Ms Seex said she had never come across a case like it.

Decision notices were kept - but without the plans and applications, it is not clear what has been approved, the report found.

"The ombudsman has grave concern that this represents a significant and very serious failure of corporate governance," the report added.

In the case of the two complainants, the report found the council had approved a planning application in 1994 but it was impossible to tell what exactly was approved.

Apology to residents

An application to renew planning permission was made in 1997, which saw objections from residents, but again it is impossible to establish what the council approved.

Further changes to the plans were made in 2002, again with objections from the residents. Ms Seex found the changes should not have been made in the form of a renewal of planning permission.

There were further difficulties after the house was built in 2007, in relation to the access road.

As well as the maladministration of destroying the records, the ombudsman found the council had acted with maladministration in six aspects of dealing with the complainants' case.

Ms Seex recommended that Warrington council apologise to the residents, pay them each £5,000 in recognition of the negative impact of the development on them and for their time and trouble at having to pursue the complaint.

She also recommended the council serve a notice on the developer about the access road.

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